After three weeks away from preaching, and hearing three faithful sermons on Psalms 22–24, Psalm 73, and Psalm 88, I took to the pulpit again yesterday. And instead of jumping into Book 3 of the Psalms, I sought to answer one question: How do we get into the Psalms? Or more precisely, how does a canonical approach to the Psalms apply to our daily devotions?
Comparing the Psalms to Christ-anticipating parade, I made the case that we must read the Psalms
- With Christ as our guide,
- Consecutively, and
- With Christ as our goal.
You can listen to the message here or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are a few resources. Continue reading
How do you know who you are?
For all of us stories, especially family stories, define who we are. While the world tells us we can define ourselves however we want, the truth is we need an overarching story to set the context for our lives. Apart from Christ, we seek to write a story with our lives that satisfies our cravings and bolsters our self-confidence.
When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, however, we not only receive the Lord’s righteousness and life, we also receive his name, his family, and his history. Importantly, Jesus’ family history does not begin in a Bethlehem stable, it goes back to Ruth and Boaz—another family in Bethlehem. And in the birth of their great-grandson David, we find the foundational patriarch who defines the royal family of King Jesus and all of human history. In the Psalms David is the central figure. In Book 1 he is the author and centerpiece of (almost) every psalm. And now in Book 2, he continues to have the leading role.
This week, building on the message from last week, we consider how the sons of Korah, Asaph, and Solomon all factor into David’s later life. As I argue in the sermon, Book 2 begins with the highpoint of David’s life in Psalms 45–46; it then plummets into the conflicts that arise following David’s sin with Bathsheba in Psalms 51–71; it concludes with God intervening to save David and establish David’s son Solomon on the throne in Psalm 72. In this story we find the family story of David, of Jesus, and of every child of God who has entered into David’s story by way of trust in David’s Son.
You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. But perhaps most helpful are two infographics that display the story of Psalms 1–72. Here are the infographics, also in PDF (Book 1 and Book 2). Below are discussion questions and resources for further study.
How did we get the Psalms? And how do we get into the Psalms? Meaning, how do we apply the Psalms of ancient Israel to ourselves today? And in applying them, how do we avoid undisciplined allegory and mere historicism devoid of Christ?
These are important questions for reading the Psalms. And few have answered these questions better than Bruce Waltke.
In his essay, “A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms” (found in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, 3–18) he observes four historical phases in the development of the Psalms. And rightly, I believe, he helps us to see (1) how individual authors wrote Psalms, (2) how these Psalms were gathered into various collections (perhaps stored in Solomon’s temple), (3) how these collections were arranged at a later period by a (Levitical?) editor, and (4) how this collection of Psalms serves to point forward to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has now come and fulfilled the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44–47). Continue reading
The Psalters is comprised of 150 Psalms, divided into five books. Is this incidental? Or should we seek to discern the message of the Psalms by examining the five books?
Last week, we started our journey through the Psalms, as we considered the way Psalms 1–2 introduce the whole book. This week, we looked at the first 41 Psalms. In particular we traced, what I called three hills and a valley. You can see the arrangement in this PDF. I argued that each grouping of Psalms can be observed by careful attention to the literary structure and that each hill or valley has a unique message related to the overarching theme(s) of the book
You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as well as a few sources I consulted to help ‘see’ the shape of Book 1. Continue reading
When I teach hermeneutics, one of the key points I make is the need to read each passage with three horizons in mind. These horizons have been labeled by Edmund Clowney and Richard Lints as the textual, epochal, and canonical horizons. And careful attention to them help the interpreter keep an eye on the the grammatical structure of any given text, the relationship of that ‘text’ to the larger context of the book or covenant in which it is found, and the final connection between that text and the whole of the Bible—hence, textual, epochal, and canonical horizons respectively.
In books like Exodus, Ezekiel, and Ephesians, it is makes sense to read the Bible at these three horizons. But what about the Psalms? Does this approach apply to them? Indeed, if the Psalms are a book purposefully arranged, it does. And so, I do believe we should employ these three horizons when reading any given Psalm.
Reading the Psalms Textually, Epochally, and Canonically
As we study the Psalms, we should look not only at the immediate Psalm, but where it fits into the Psalter and the storyline unfolding in this eschatologically-charged book. On this point, Psalm scholar John Crutchfield has rightly observed that a faithful reading of the Psalms must consider three levels of interpretation. Under a section entitled ‘Methodology and Presuppositions” (Psalms in Their Context: An Interpretation of Psalms 107-118), here’s what he says: Continue reading
Few books have had a more personal or profound impact on the worship of the church than the Psalms. And for the next two months our church is going to meditate on their message. But what is there message? And how do we find it? Is it possible to read the Psalms as one unified book? Or must we only see them as a hymnbook with various authors, genres, and themes?
Starting in this introductory on Psalms 1 and 2, I argued we should read the Psalms as one unified message that begins with the David of history and leads to the Son of David, Jesus Christ. As the weeks go on we will look at each book of the Psalms, and how they develop a message of wisdom, kingship, and salvation.
You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and resources for further reading and viewing are below. If time is short, be sure to watch the Bible Project video about the Psalms. Continue reading
Psalm 1, Psalm 23, Psalm 51, Psalm 103, Psalm 110, Psalm 121 and Psalm 139. These are just a few of my favorite Psalms. Through the years, I have prayed these Psalms, memorized them, preached them, and turned to them in dozens of counseling situations.
In fact, I remember one Sunday a few years ago when in preaching Galatians, I called an audible and preached Psalm 103, because the needs of the congregation were so great that only a Psalm could reach the depths of emotion present in the room that Sunday. And another time, a distraught husband visited church, and Psalm 32 became the landing zone to help assess the impact of his sin and the hope of finding forgiveness—“Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven” (v. 1)
More personally, the Psalms have been a regular source of strength, comfort, and encouragement to me. When first learning how the Bible applied to all areas of life, Psalm 139 gave sufficient reason to oppose abortion. I still remember turning to verses 13–16 to explain why Bible-believing Christians must defend life in the womb. Likewise, when facing trials, Psalm 121 has regularly been a comfort. Its promises of the Lord’s protection have steeled my heart from many worries. And more recently, when facing the hostility of a purported minister of the gospell, Psalm 55 was sufficient to strengthen my soul. To know that God’s people face betrayal is gut-wrenching reality, but one that the Psalms are capable of addressing. In short, the Psalms have played a necessary role in my life over the years. They have fed my soul. And I’ve seen them feed the souls of others.
Practically, I read at least one Psalm a day. (Except for those days when I don’t and then I catch up on the following day or two). In chronological order, I read through the whole Psalter in five months (January–May), with one extra month (June) to read them through more quickly. I do this to help facilitate prayer, but also to remind myself of the storyline of salvation contained therein. Yes, there is an order to the Psalms and knowing it adds greatly to understanding the Psalms and worshiping their God. Continue reading
To read something canonically means reading something as a unified whole, instead of fragmenting the book or letter into dozens of independent (or worse, divergent) pieces. Reading canonically seeks to understand the author’s intention, by recognizing the literary shape of his document. It is aware of the genre of the composition, but even more it looks at the internal evidence to see what is there. When reading books in the Bible, this way of reading is challenging, but always well-repaid. By seeing the literary shape of the text, we come much closer to understanding the meaning of the message.
But what if the book is composite, something like Proverbs, which is a collection of wise sayings? Or the Psalms, which is the ‘hymnbook’ of Israel and the Church? Is it possible to such books as a unified whole?
When it comes to the Psalms, I believe the answer is unmistakably, “yes!” And the reasons are manifold. In fact, drawing on the work of other Old Testament scholars, I want to suggest twelve reasons why you should read the Psalms as a book written as one unified canon. Or to say it differently, here are twelve evidences of intentional arrangement in the Psalter—arrangement that should inform the way we read the Psalms and that should ultimately lead us to a more Christ-centered understanding of the Psalter and its individual Psalms. Continue reading
Should we read the Psalms as 150 individual hymns of praise, thanksgiving, and lament? Or should we read it as one unified hymnbook, written with purposeful arrangement? Or both?
Throughout the history of the church, the Psalter has played a central role in shaping the church at worship. Publicly and privately, these inspired words have fueled faith, directed praise, and expressed lament. Some have used the Psalms as the sole hymnbook for their song services. Others have employed them for counseling and meditation and theological devotion. All who swim in their waters find a glorious taste for God, expressed with the deepest emotions of the human soul. Therefore, like honey, its sweetness is self-evident.
Yet, the question remains: how should we read the Psalms?
Importantly, the answer to that question has shifted over the last one hundred years. And it is worth learning a little bit about the history of Psalm studies to understand why most Christians—of various stripes—read each psalm in isolation for the others. And why that kind of reading should be complemented by an approach that reads the Psalms as one, Spirit-inspired soundtrack to redemptive history.
But to do that, we need to go over oceans and back to the 19th Century. Continue reading
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
— Psalm 69:30 —
Thanksgiving is a practice of politeness, etiquette, and good decorum. Right? It is what we (are told to) express when Aunt Lucille buys you a sweater when you want the Super Hero action figures. Or something like that. It is a Christian command, but one that is more happenstance than a daily discipline. Right?
Well, what does Scripture say? Could it be that thanksgiving is something far more essential than we typically think? However you consider it, I am increasingly convinced the discipline of thanksgiving is a central feature of what it means to be a Christian. With it the church of God will grow in grace and love and hope, but without it Christ’s church becomes bitter, fragile, and peevish.
Could it be that one of the greatest needs we have today is the cultivation of thanksgiving as a spiritual grace and habit of holiness? Could it be that we have too casually treated thanksgiving? Maybe its just me, but I think we could use a refresher on how important Scripture makes thanksgiving. Continue reading